By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — The stark and uncompromising images of the Holocaust captured in the frames of the 70-year-old documentary film German Concentration Camps Factual Survey terrified even famed director Alfred Hitchcock. The unflinching film also surprised Max Glauben, a well-known Holocaust survivor and member of the Dallas Holocaust museum board.
“It was brutal — very hard to watch,” Glauben said.
German Concentration Camps Factual Survey will be shown at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 3, at Cinemark 17 and IMAX, 11819 Webb Chapel in Dallas. The Dallas Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance is teaming up with Cinemark 17 to present the documentary to the public for free.
“This is a very unique opportunity to view this film,” an online release from the museum states.
Because of the subject matter, children under 18 will not be admitted.
Glauben viewed an earlier version of the film that was most likely a copy of PBS Frontline’s Memory of the Camps, based on only partial footage of the project.
“A lot of the film I saw had narration and part of it was just footage,” Glauben said. “I’m not sure if they were at any stage of restoration.”
This project began back in 1945. Hitchcock — the “Master of Suspense” — was approached by his friend, producer Sidney Bernstein, who asked him to help put together this documentary for the British Ministry of Information.
The film was designed to center around Allied Army film footage shot in Nazi concentration camps such as Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, and Auschwitz. There was no getting around the stark reality of what was caught on film — described by several officers as a “glimpse into Hell.” It was basically created to document the liberation of the German concentration camps and offer evidence of Nazi atrocities to the German public.
“Horrible,” Hitchcock is quoted as saying in the 1970s to Henri Langlois, co-founder of the Cinémathèque Française. “It was more horrible than any fantasy horror. Then, nobody wanted to see it. It was too unbearable. But it has stayed in my mind all of these years.”
Hitchcock was referring to the fact that the film was shelved for years and years in the Imperial War Museum in Great Britain — listed only by the archival title number: F3080.
This is where it remained until a partial version of it was aired 40 years later. It would be a full 70 years before a full and completely restored version made its way to theaters.
Why was it shelved? Apparently, the Allied military government in Berlin — which was trying at the time to win the hearts and minds of the defeated Germans — decided in late 1945 that the film would do them more harm than good. Few, if any, of the Germans who sat down to see the film stayed until its finish.
Ultimately, Hitchcock was credited as a “treatment adviser” and only played a limited role in the preparation of footage that had been gathered, documentary filmmaker and anthropologist André Singer said in Night Will Fall, a documentary about the making of German Concentration Camp Factual Survey.
In 1985, PBS Frontline acquired the film and screened it under the title Memory of the Camps. British actor Trevor Howard was the narrator. But at this point, the sixth and final reel of the film was nowhere to be found.
Interest in the film has grown over the years. A full restoration of the film plus the reconstruction of the missing sixth reel (based on an original shots list) was undertaken by the Imperial War Museums in 2008. Actor Jasper Britton recorded the commentary.
There is no charge to attend the film, but an RSVP is requested due to limited seating. RSVP to rsvp@DallasHolocaustMuseum.org.